Each year, high school students applying to college and college students currently enrolled in courses must fill out their Free Application for Federal Student aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the federal form that collects your family’s income and tax information. That information is then used to determine how much financial aid your student qualifies for at all levels. This form typically opens up in October each year for families to complete. However, the Department Education has been working to streamline this document since 2020. With new changes coming, the Department of Education has delayed the application opening until December 2023. After the 2024-2025 year, the form will return to its October opening date. Today, we’re discussing what this delayed opening actually means and what’s going on with the FAFSA.
Why is FAFSA being delayed?
In 2020, Congress approved the FAFSA Simplification Act. This act means to overhaul the way we approach federal student aid. Major goals included streamlining the FAFSA application, expending Pell Grant access, and replacing the Expected Family Contribution. The Department of Education has been working to simplify the form and now it’s almost ready for implementation. But, changing the FAFSA is about more than simply changing a single document. There are systems in place in every college across the nation that receive these applications. Processes must be updated along with the application itself. Additionally, the financial aid staff responsible for handling these documents and subsequent financial aid awards have to be trained on the updates.
What does the December opening mean for your family?
With the application opening 2 months later than normal, everything else will be on a condensed schedule as well. First things first, be patient. Financial aid departments will have to review these applications more quickly in order to have everything back to families on time. The later colleges get information from families, the less time there is to finalize award notices. Obviously a delayed opening also means that students and families need to be more aware of deadlines. Missed deadlines mean missed money! There are some priority deadlines for grant programs in January. Therefore, it’s critical that families apply as soon as FAFSA opens!
There is some concern that students who have less help at home to file these documents may be at an unfair disadvantage to receive funds. School counselors and financial aid advisors should prepare to assist these students. Sometime this spring, the Department of Education will publish tools to help families understand the differences between the new Student Aid Index (similar to the Expected Family Contribution). Make time to review this information so that your family knows what the numbers being presented mean. Staff, counselors, and families will also be able to review the testing and demonstration website before the December launch.
What can your family do to be prepared?
Right now, the best thing you can do to prepare your family to file your FAFSA application is to gather your tax information. The minute the application opens, you and your student should apply. Remember, the sooner you apply, the sooner the school gets the documentation. Missing any deadlines, especially with the shift to a December open date, can mean missing out on potential money for your student! Finally, watch for the new tutorials and walkthroughs so that your family can review the changes together.
One thing hasn’t changed from the previous form to this year’s December opening of the FAFSA – and that’s being prepared. Even more so now, it’s important for families to watch for the changes, have their documents prepared, and be ready to file as soon as the form opens in December. Everyone is still waiting for the official date of opening to be released. If you have any questions about the new FAFSA, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re all learning this new form together – and look forward to assisting you this year.
Who We Are
CFAA helps with the financial aid process, from completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile to reviewing the SAR, responding to requests for verification, comparing financial aid offers and understanding student loan options. Schedule a CFAA new client free strategy session or a 15 Minute Power Chat to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my bi-weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.